We had no physical education classes in our school; just a playground area near the school for the lower grades and a grassy field opposite the church where fifth through eighth graders grades were encouraged to play ball games. I recall one game with the country kids pitted against the town kids. Not only was the score lopsided, but we country kids never even got up to bat before the school bell called us back into the building. The kids from town had the advantage of little league baseball in summer. We chose up sides after that fiasco, but we all knew who got picked first and who last. I lost interest in playing ball and didn’t even participate the last day of the school year when our entire class had the full afternoon off to play ball. It was bad enough to strike out in front of the boys, but having younger and older girls laugh at me would have been too painful.
Being unsupervised, I don’t recall any problems other than a few kids leaving the property to buy candy over the noon hour. The local store owners were instructed to send those students back to school, and most of us didn’t have money to spend anyhow. During special farm equipment demonstration days in town, country kids could join their fathers for free hot dogs and pop, but they needed a note from home.
Except for that last day of school, I don’t remember girls participating in ball games with the boys, they just seemed to stand around and giggle a lot. By the seventh and eighth grades, some of us boys quit playing ball and socialized with the girls.
One particular girl, Betty Ann, caught my interest. My friend Dennis and I hung around with her and her friend, Gail, most of our seventh grade. We teased and bantered back and forth. For instance, Gail snitched on me back in the first grade. Neat rows of paper pockets like the ones found on inside covers of library books had been tacked onto a bulletin board, one for each student. Whenever someone broke a rule, a red strip of construction paper would mysteriously appear in that student’s pocket. I knew Gail had put the red flag in mine for running down the hallway on the way to the bathroom. She accused me of reciprocating and I denied it.
Sister LilyRosa embarrassed Betty Ann and Gail by labeling them boy crazy in front of the entire class. Dennis and I got off free, but the girls weren’t as much fun to be with after that. I don’t think Betty Ann was completely aware of my feelings for her. She became my first official date when I finally reached the ninth grade but, like tasting a new food for the first time, she spit me out. I was devastated but survived. Dennis and Gail’s relationship lasted well into high school. I still consider Dennis my best friend although we don’t get together very often.
Although I seldom participated in sports at school, I kept active at home; summer time lawn and garden work and in winter shoveling snow. Although my family didn’t live on an active farm, I raised rabbits and bantam chickens. In my free time, I traipsed across fields to neighbors with kids my age, and sometimes just to reach my favorite quiet spot out in the woods. I hired out for such farm jobs as catching chickens, or picking rocks, or stomping silage, even some limited tractor driving. (A year later I did most kinds of farm work, sometimes living away from home for months at a time.)
During the 1952-53 school year, the changes occurring within my body caused discomfort, physically and emotionally. I couldn’t trust that my voice might betray my anxiety, and body odors, mostly bad breath, worried me. Should I shave the sproutings of a moustache or treat it as baby fuzz. And most of all, what the devil was happening between my legs.